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New Zealand v India – Test Series Preview

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India commence their first away series in the world test championship by taking on New Zealand in a two match series. With India head and shoulders above the rest with regards to the points table, a win in this series will most certainly book their ticket in the Lord’s test championship final. More than this it will further go on to prove the good traveling side this Indian team has become. But topling the Kiwis at home on green tracks, facing likes of Boult, Wagner and Southee, will not be a walk in the park.

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Through the home season and also the few away series before, India has shown they have a group of fast bowlers fit and capable of exploiting the foreign seamer friendly conditions. To the extent, even in the home season, without Jasprit Bumrah, the steamers claimed more wickets than the spinners, further stating the influence they have in this Indian side.

It is no surprise that Kohli prefers dominating with seamers, and with the veteran Ishant Sharma fit and finding form in the latter stages of his career, Mohammad Shami with a rejuvenate fitness and seam position skills next to none and a viely Jasprit Bumrah, Indian seam attack is well rounded to acclamatise to the New Zealand conditions. If required, the backup seamers in Umesh Yadav and Navdeep Saini too can add quite an impact. The question for India however will be the spin option to either opt for Ashwin or Jadeja or play both compromising on a batsman.

For New Zealand, there is no understating the quality the top seamers, back after sitting out the limited over series possess. Trent Bolt is arguably the best bowler with the new red ball. The left arm angle and ability to bring the ball back in to the right handlers, plenty of which are there in the Indian side, will test the opposition in favorable territory. Neil Wagner has been a workhorse like never seen before. His stamina and fitness levels are extraordinary and can deliver long spells of pitch bowling. His unavailability in the first Test may just give the opposition some breathing space.

Southee may have had a forgettable white ball series but his partnership with Bolt sharing the new ball has been very effective. Talk about bowling in pairs, and this pair certainly are amongst the top on that list. What has been effective for New Zealand is the contribution with the ball by all rounders. Colin de Grandhommes gentle medium pace does enough on the home green decks to question the opposition.

With both teams having strong bowling lineups, it will be the batting that will determine the series. India with Mayank Agarwal and Prithwi Shaw will want them to blunt the new ball threat as much as possible. Shaw’s natural attacking instincts should help his team ensure a good scoring rate and look to counter attack. Pujara will play a crucial role in tiring the opposition and batting the long innings before Kohli, Rahane and the lower order can capitalize ok the tired bowling unit. Batting time will be equally important here in the series.

Formula will be the same for the home side who like India have a strong middle order. With a more stable top order Tom Latham has shown the versatile character to counter the tough conditions. Following with Williamson, Taylor and Watling a strong core of middle order will test the depth of the Indian bowling lineup. With inform Henry Nichols and the explosive all rounder in de Grandhomme, New Zealand have all bases covered to pose India adequate challenge.

Coming in on a high with a successful home season, India would like to prove that they are a strong traveling side as well. Playing as the number one test side which they are, they would want to dominate New Zealand who hold the edge given the home conditions. With teams pushing for wins to gain valuable test championship points, this series is going to be an exciting contest between two evenly matched teams.

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Future of the Cricket-ing Calendar

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Lockdown around the world has brought global sports to a stand still. There is no specific time given to when one can assume things to fall back to normal proceedings. With the uncertainty in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, the future of a busy sporting calendar is in great doubts.

Cricket has a number of ongoing and shortly upcoming world tournaments in progress. The world Test Championship, initiated post 2019 world cup is currently on going and midway as teams tussle for points heading into the final next year in June. The world T20 tournament is also scheduled in Australia later this year along with the new ODI league which would be the pathway for teams to qualify for the men’s 2023 ODI world cup – scheduled to start from May. All of these should be under re-scheduling considering the current crisis the world is facing.

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World Test Championship (WTC)

India currently occupy the top spot on the points table for the WTC. However, their 2-0 series loss to New Zealand, and with more away tours scheduled, a number of teams stand in contention to make it to the top two spots. With a large number of series cancelled or deferred, there will not be adequate time to accommodate all games in time for the finals scheduled for June 2021.

One possible option is to play the final with current WTC points table leaders, else a revised schedule needs to be considered to allow for some form of parity. Another consideration would be defer the final to ensure all teams play equal number of series to stand an equal chance to top the points table. Either solution would require careful consideration considering other tournament schedules and the second edition of the Test Championship.

2020 T20 World Cup Down under

Though ICC is not considering any change in the current scheduling of T20 World Cup in Australia and are optimistic in their approach, one would need to consider the worst-case scenario. A reschedule to hold the tournament later in the Australian summer would be difficult with a full length series against India scheduled between November to January 2021. Another option is to postpone the tournament to next year, which would also push the next edition of the tournament scheduled in India to be held in 2022. This could be a viable option considering there are no global tournaments scheduled for in 2022.

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Cricket World Cup Super League

Scheduled to begin in May this year and expected to go until March 2022, the ODI Super League would serve as a qualification pathway for the 2023 World Cup. With all top 13 teams participating in it, each team would play eight series over a two-year cycle on a home-and-away basis and gain rankings similar to the World Test Championship. This would add context to the stand alone bilateral ODI series. As a number of tours are cancelled, it is highly unlikely for the cycle to commence from May which could either result in the reduction in the total number or series between teams or to completely rule out the Super League. In such a scenario, the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup would need to be reworked.

Currently with no cut-off date set for the final verdict on the future schedules of these major tournaments, these will certainly be the major points of discussion in the ICC’s quarterly meeting scheduled in May. As we await optimistic news in our fight against COVID-19, the future of cricket is currently as fluid and uncertain as one can image it to be.  

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Grey Areas in Cricket: Front foot No-Ball

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A “Front foot No-ball” is in general terms referred to as the crossing of the line by the bowlers front foot at the point of release of the ball. If the bowler does not comply to the above, the umpire can rule the ball to be illegal and reward the batting team with an extra run and an extra delivery. Though this is not the only way in which an umpire rules a delivery illegal, the front foot no-ball has raised a number of arguments in recent times with the difficulty the rule causes. As cricket takes a pause in response to COVID-19, let us look into the No-Ball rule (front foot no-ball), the arguments it presents and some possible alternatives to overcome and provide a fair means to resolve this grey area in the sport.

Law 21.5 of the MCC rule book for “Fair delivery – the feet” describes No ball in the following manner:
21.5 For a delivery to be fair in respect of the feet, in the delivery stride
21.5.1 the bowler’s back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his/her stated mode of delivery.
21.5.2 the bowler’s front foot must land with some part of the foot, whether grounded or raised
–       on the same side of the imaginary line joining the two middle stumps as the return crease described in 21.5.1, and
–       behind the popping crease.
If the bowler’s end umpire is not satisfied that all of these three conditions have been met, he/she shall call and signal No ball.”

The above law clearly reveals the complications and attention to detail an umpire needs to give prior to the ball reaching the batsman’s end. A result of which is the umpires often referring a no-ball decision much later after the outcome of the delivery has been dictated. This is mostly taken into consideration on the fall of a wicket which on a number of occasions has resulted in overturning of the decision as the bowler has overstepped the popping crease. A result of this is frustration of the bowler and fielding side who have done much of the hard work in dismissing the batsman.

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So why is it that only at a dismissal is a no-ball being referred to the TV umpire? Perhaps one can argue that the front foot no-ball is a major factor determining the dismissal of the batsman. On the contrary, if the clarity of the no-ball was provided earlier on any regular delivery, the bowler could make the necessary adjustment prior to any dismissals being taken place. This instance was recently used in the limited overs series in India by the BCCI where every delivery was being supervised by the TV umpire in judging the front foot call. Certainly, proving to be a fair means to conclude, this method can certainly be adopted in the long run particularly with technology becoming a vital part of the game and its decision making.

Some traditionalist of the game argue regarding the use of this technology and taking the power away from the on-field umpire. They also state that additional time will be taken from the game in making this call on the front foot by the TV umpire. These arguments though do not make a strong case for themselves. Technology here is being used to aid the umpire and relieve them of certain duties to help them make better calls and decision at the striker’s end. Additionally, although the regular check by the TV umpires may cause a marginally longer time between deliveries, all playing teams and fans would certainly agree to this approach.

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Furthermore, there is also the argument that the on-field calls on no-balls allows the batsman the decision to change their shot as there is no fear of a dismissal. Most current batsman would contradict it as there is very little time for them to make a change in their shot after an on-field call. This is certainly true for a fast bowler but the adjustment is possible to be made for a slower bowler. However, with a free hit on offer on the next delivery, a batsman would care less to focus on an on-field call to change the shot in a split second.

Technology clearly providing a number of benefits that can be put into practice without any change in the law. For the sake of the argument, even if we do consider prioritizing the on-field call, the practical solution in that case would be an amendment in the law.

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In all of the above instance, we certainly are forgetting the position of the backfoot in the no-ball decision. With bowlers making use of the angle to create opportunities to dismiss batsman, they often do violate and get very close to the sideline on their delivery stride, which is often neglected. Also, the front foot is not clearly visible on most occasions to the umpires with the bowlers body blocking their vision. The amendment in this case to control both the above factors is to dictate the no-ball with regards to the back foot of the bowler. A number of experts have given this suggestion which clearly has a number of positives. At a delivery stride, the bowlers back foot lands first and is also clearly visible to the umpire. Though just a fraction of a second, it would give the umpire that little time to shift his attention from the no-ball call to see what happens at the strikers end. By allowing the call to be made early, the change also gives batsman that little advantage to capitalize on the no ball.

The change in law of the backfoot no-ball call certainly aids the decision making in several ways. This along with the available technology should certainly be used to make the playing field fair and balance the competition between bat and ball. With technology already in use for front foot calls, and with IPL dedicating a separate TV umpire for this in its 2020 season (currently on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic), cricket is certainly finding ways to address this Grey area in the sport. 

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Hurt India brace for upbeat South Africa

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India will host South Africa for a 3 match ODI series starting at Dharamsala. Both teams come on the back of contrasting performances in the format. With a young South African side winning three consecutive games against Australia at home, they certainly have the confidence to compete a strong Indian side at home. India, on the back of three consecutive losses away to New Zealand will seek respite in the comback of their more regular stars to the side.

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South Africa had a nightmare-ish last 12 months, particularly in the white ball formats. With retirement, injury and management shakeup, the side they have put together now shows promise. The clean sweep series victory to a strong Aussie set up will certainly assure that they belong at the international stage. Though for this young side, these Indian conditions will certainly be foreign. With Faf back in the side and form of the more experienced players in Klaasen and Miller will be cruitial for them to stage dominance over a strong Indian side at home. The young members will need to be led well, not just by the experienced players but also their captain who has certainly enjoyed facing the Indian attack in his career.

For India, the return of Hardik Pandya seems to be the center of focus with the balance he provides to the team. With strong batting performances in a domestic T20 series, he has not obtained enough game time particularly with the ball and how the body will take to bowling longer spells. Jadeja’s presence as the spin all rounder will aid India and lift the load of a full 10 over spell from Pandya. The other major return for India is at the top of the order in Shikhar Dhawan. The lack of top order performances in the New Zealand series certainly hurt India. Shikhar’s presence will add some experience and India will be hoping for him to pick up from the form he left off prior to injury. Bhuvaneshawar Kumar also makes it to the side post injury and should most likely be featuring in all games. He will be in need for match practice who with Bumrah need to rise to the performance they were producing nearly a year ago.

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The return of Pandya puts a number of questions on the team selection for India. Though a happy headace to have, India will be looking to achieve a form on consistency in the playing combination to ensure clarity of roles. With the side backing Iyre and Rahul at 4 and 5, Shaw will retain his place along with Shikhar at the top of the line-up. Pandya will be coming in at the expense of Manish Pandey who once again will need to site out despite strong performances and showing maturity to finish games. Jadeja will also keep his place in the side adding to valuable overs and batting depth coming in at 7. Bhuvaneshwar, Bumrah, Saini and Chahl should form the last 4 members in the first game.

South Africa on the other hand do not have as many headaces. Both Maharaj and Shamsi have bowled well to be in the side as lead spinners. Ngigi’s form with the ball will certainly make him the leader of the attack along with the pace of Nortje and all round capabilities of Phehlukwayo. The middle order will be where the bulk of the exprience lies for the Proteas with Faf, Klaasen and Miller. Bavuma’s injury scare could result in Malan parterning his captain at the top with Smut’s part time spin edging him in the side over van der Dussen.

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